What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a personality trait where someone strives for flawlessness. It is often accompanied by the setting of high standards and an internal critical voice. Sometimes perfectionistic traits can be helpful, for example when striving to meet important deadlines or help create an organised and productive life. However, perfectionistic traits can also be detrimental to mental health as goals can feel unachievable leading to a sense of failure.
Coping with perfectionism
If you struggle with perfectionism try the following strategies to limit its impact on your life and mental health:
Practice a balance of acceptance and change: self-acceptance is not about giving up or no longer striving. It is about accepting where you are starting from and what you would like to change.
Make sure your goals are SMART: SMART goals are goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (to values and long term goals) and Time bounded. If you struggle with perfectionistic traits you may find that your goals are not SMART, in particular achievable or time bounded. Consider seeking confirmation from peers as to whether the goal you have set can be achieved and within the time limit you have set yourself. Or wonder if achieving such a goal will have any negative side effects on your life or other goals.
Compare what you expect of yourself to what you expect of others: when setting yourself a target consider how you would respond if a loved one set the same target. If you would tell them that it is unrealistic then tell yourself the same.
Recalibrate how you view failure: many perfectionists struggle to cope with failure. If you do, then reframe failures as steps on the road to success. If you find yourself avoiding tasks that you fear you will fail at then challenge yourself to jump in and try them. Activities that cannot be clearly defined as a pass or fail are helpful when practicing this at first.
Practice forgiveness: learn to forgive yourself for perceived errors and imperfections. Practice the concept of good enough. Learning such skills do require practice and you may need to actively remind yourself that good enough is good enough until it becomes more intuitive.
Be mindful: in order to use any of the above strategies mindfulness is key. Mindfulness is the art of being aware of, and concentrating on, the present. This can be either your own internal world or the external world. The idea is not to push thoughts away but to simply notice them, for example, ‘I am having the thought that this work is not good enough’.
Seeking help for perfectionism
If you have tried some of the above strategies and are struggling with perfectionism, or if you have additional mental health concerns then you may find support through therapy helpful. To discuss this further then contact Dr Julie Hannan on 07530 854530.